Jump Start: Six Secrets to a Killer Jump Serve

Set yourself

A great jump serve is more than a luxury, it's a necessary weapon - especially against top competition.

You need to give your team a chance to score, and a tough jump serve is a great way to do that. Even if you didn't serve an ace, you can cause trouble for your opponents.

Jump serving isn't for everyone. Let me tell you straight up: this is not a serve for the timid. You've got to have the guts to throw the ball up on the bad side and hit it as hard as you can without fear. If you can pull off that attitude, you've got what it takes to be a great jump server. If you can't, this article isn't for you.

Since you're still with me, I'm going to share six secrets that will help give you the toughest jump serve on the beach.

1. Set Yourself
Your toss equals your set, so toss the ball just like you'd like it to be set. If you like a high set, the toss it high. If low's better, then go low. There's no single type of toss that's right for everyone, just like there's no one set that works for all hitters.

You need to set yourself well. A bad toss can negate any benefit you might get out of jump serving. Nine times out of 10, players will just try to keep the ball in the court and not hit if the toss is bad. You need to practice this skill as much as possible. It takes a lot of time and repetitions, but the same way a basketball players will spend hours shooting free throws, a good volleyball player will spend hours working on his toss.

You should never have to catch your toss. With enough practice, you should always get it right the first time. Look at professional tennis: Have you ever seen Pete Sampras catch his toss? Rarely, if at all. And he gets two attempts.

2. Create a Ritual
Jump serving doesn't have to be difficult. It's the same as hitting a ball, just 30 feet back. You use the same approach. It's all the same: your footwork, your armswing, everything.

Even though it should be simple, people make it harder than it has to be. They think too much and try to use a fancy toss with spin, or they change their footwork on the approach. This is why successful jump servers create a ritual.

A ritual is a simple motion, action, or even a phrase you say to yourself every time you jump serve to keep your mind on the action, It's very important because it makes the motion automatic. Think of a golfer having the same routine every time he putts. Some people, like Scott Ayakatubby and Adam Johnson, have a very distinctive style.

I like to take five steps back from the court first. I twirl the ball behind my back and brush the sand off the ball. I toss the ball and take a right-left-right-left, four-step approach, then contact the ball and follow through just like I'm hitting (see photos).

Figure out what works for you, then stick with it. It'll help your jump serve become an easy, automatic motion.

3. Know Your Zones
It doesn't do you any good to hit a killer jump serve if you're putting it right in your opponent's lap. No matter how hard you hit it, if you hit it right to them they'll soon have no problem handling it. The key to killer serving: Serve it tough, and serve it away from your opponents into the "dead zones." Make them move. If they're not moving for your serve, you're not doing a very good job.

The best place to serve is the deep middle, right between the two passers (arrows in Figure 1, shaded triangle in Figure 2). If you can get your opponents to look at each other because they can't tell whose ball it should be, you've already won half the battle. Confusion is very demoralizing for any team.

Other good zones to go for are the down-the-line serve and the short breaking serve, which curves toward the sideline (see both Figure 1 and Figure 2). Both make teams hustle to pass, which helps throw off their offensive setup. In a best-case scenario, you'll catch them sleeping and get an ace. automatic motion.

4. The Wind Is Your Friend
I love the wind. The wind makes the best jump serve even better because it makes the ball drop, or sail or do things it normally wouldn't. A light wind lets you hit the ball hard. Never give up your jump serve because of windy conditions.

You need to be a student of the environment in this sport. Wind is often a factor, and it isn't consistent. It's not unusual for the wind to change direction during a match. Test it by tossing up a handful of sand or noticing which way trees or flags are blowing. Here are a few tricks for using the wind.

Wind Behind You:
If the wind is blowing dead-on behind you, your serve will obviously go deeper. Aim your serve a little bit shorter than where you want it to end up, but don't serve like a wimp. Stay aggressive!

Wind in Front of You:
If the wind is blowing dead-on in your face, this is the time to hit the tar out of the ball. A straight-on wind can have unpredictable effects on a straight-on serve, making it break, float, or drop like a rock. Also notice where your opponents are set up and aim for where they're not.

Wind at an Angle:
Wind coming onto the court at an angle can be tricky, but the trick is to serve into me wind, either short or deep. This will cause the ball to peel off or drop suddenly. You can also serve up a screwball with a spin that causes it to veer suddenly back into the center of the court. This will mess up the outside player, who probably planned to take responsibility for the pass until the ball moved.

Wind Across the Court:
If the wind is blowing directly across the court from right to left, keep the same idea in mind as with wind from an angle: Serve into it. Again, the ball will peel off or drop. Don't serve away from the wind because the ball could fly out of bounds.

5. Mix It Up
Unpredicatbility is the greatest factor you can develop to make your jump serve a killer. If you develop one signature style, it might work well for a while. But it's like a batter facing the same fastball over and over again. He might strike out for a while, but eventually he'll adjust.
So you need to mix it up. Serve some short, serve some deep. Use a jump floater. I hit that serve with my fist (below left), but some players use a flat hand. Punch or contact the ball right in the middle, and stop your armswing without following through.

Learn to put a spin on the ball like my Screwy Lewy screwball. It keeps the other guys off-balance. For this serve, hit the outside of the ball just like you're hitting a cut shot (below).

The bottom line is, you can't rely on just one good serve. In today's game, you need several serves. It's just like hitting: You use all the same shots. Line shot, cut shot, angle shot - it's all the same, except you're doing it from 30 feet back.

6. Develop the Attitude
You have to have confidence to have a killer jump serve. Attitude is the most important key: You have to think "kill" every time you break it out. You have to think points. It's definitely a weapon. Think about it: If you can get five or six aces in a game to 15, you're way ahead of the game. so be aggressive! Get out there and hit the tar out if it.

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